CARY, Ill. - Throughout Memorial Day weekend, one local organization honored the men and women of Illinois who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
The moving tribute dates back to 2012.
"Hearing their story and understanding who they were, what they did, and why we have our freedoms means a lot," said Aaron Stain, president, Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois.
The ‘Field of the Fallen’ ensures that those brave soldiers are never forgotten – that their names and their stories live on.
This year, 350 flags were displayed, with one more added on Memorial Day to make 351.
"Each flag has a tag with the name of that person, the service they were in, the date of death and the hometown in which they came from," said Stain.
Since Friday, every hour on the hour, the names of Illinois soldiers who didn't make it home were read aloud.
"Throughout the weekend, we get the families locally that come out and tell their sons’ or daughters’ stories," said Stain. "It goes from being a name to putting a reality behind it."
The Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois carefully creates the display each year.
"We’ve been doing this for 11 years, and we were looking for a way to honor to do a tribute to the Gulf vets, starting in Desert Shield through all the conflicts – Kuwait, Afghanistan, and into today with global terrorism, we’re still putting names in the field today," said Stain.
The Field of the Fallen is located in the 3300 block of Three Oaks Road in Cary, Illinois. Throughout the weekend, it was protected by veterans who stood watch around the clock, including Bill Weiland who served five years in the U.S. Army.
"So at 3 in the morning, I’m reading the names to the misty field and with the lights in the background and it’s like, it really hits you deep," said Weiland.
Exactly one year ago, the field caught Weiland’s eye while driving by. Last summer, he completed active duty and was looking for a way to continue serving others.
"You want to carry that on into the civilian world, so it’s been a way to still feel connected to the military service branches and to help local veterans," said Weiland.
Over the weekend, the field saw roughly 1,500 visitors, Including Al Rzeczkowski who was there to honor the relative of a close friend who lives in Texas.
"Came to see Jonathon Metzger," said Rzeczkowski. "Just wanted to pay our respects and at the same time, take a picture of the flag and send it down to her, let her know we’re thinking of ‘em."
The Field of the Fallen closed Monday evening with a ceremony at 5 p.m. – marked by one final reading of names.
Together, volunteers meticulously rolled each flag – until next year.
"Memorial Day is not just a day you get off of work, but it means a lot more," said Rzeczkowski. "Just sit back and maybe say a prayer for how thankful we are."
All donations made to the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois are returned to U.S. Veterans.
To donate or to learn more about the nonprofit, CLICK HERE.